Social Work Next Overview


SWNext2015.fwSocial workers are on the front lines of social entrepreneurship, financial capability, public education, and health care. Yet, the profession is only now discussing the integration of these practice areas into social work education. Rather than focusing on the micro-macro distinctions, the profession must return to its roots toward integration of skills across systems. Competence in the necessary practice skills requires environmental practice added to the original social work mandate of individual change and social change.

Research-based and practical examples are presented. The talk refocuses the professional conversation on CHOICE architecture across systems levels, blending the micro-macro, contrasted with a policy-only or clinical intervention-only approach.

Objectives of the Movement

  1. Define environmental practice as an additional mandate for the profession of social work.
  2. Outline the integral practice skills that may address current community needs.
  3. Identify advances in cultural, health, political, technological, and economic tools that will support social work practice.

Excerpted from GIM+ Knowledge Content (forthcoming by
“Environmental practice” refers to the cultural, political, technological, economic, and health impacts on behavior. clarifies the distinctions that arose in the social work profession in the 1950s. Then, the profession was divided into social casework, group work, and community work. Today, these categories inadequately express the complexity and interrelated nature of individual, institutional, and environmental impacts on human behavior. Environmental practice identifies a cadre of problems and opportunities that social workers are uniquely suited to address ordered by Culture, Health, Economics, Politics, and Technology.

Each component is important to any assessment because it outlines an evaluation of social role, culture, access, and capacity that any behavioral scientist would agree has a bearing on behavior choice. These components provide a foundation for behavioral scientist to examine human complexity and choice behavior.

CULTURE. “Culture” is the social context of environmental practice. Leadership is managing culture. All institutions have cultures to manage. This element identifies institutions and opportunities within them including: a) family b) church c) business d) health, and e) education. These institutions are examined according to theories of culture change, macro social systems, leadership, creation, and growth cycles. It may be defined as the social role accepted by the individual based on his/her socialization over time. Accepted, integrated CULTURE is influenced by trauma, experience, risk, resilience, attributions, and expectations. Trauma can refer to physical harm or emotional longing. Experience refers to the expectation of a negative outcome based on prior outcomes. Risk describes the ability of the individual to take chances. Resilience describes the ability of the individual to make choices beyond (not supported by) his/her current state or prior experience. Attribution refers to conclusions and sense-making of the individual. Expectation describes the expectation of positive outcomes that break a pattern of negative outcomes.

POLITICS. “Politics” is the value context of environmental practice. It can be defined as the structures reinforcing the norms, beliefs, and affiliations of the individual. It is influenced by authority figures, in-group initiation, and at least three dichotomies. The first is creativity versus conformity. The second dichotomy is autonomy versus dependence. The third dichotomy is pragmatism versus idealism. The problem is a lack of capacity to implement at the local level due to prejudice, ignorance, and polarization. The solution: know the political process for policy creation, advocacy, and social justice. The solution is a politics of empathy. As long as you can turn away and dismiss my views with a logical fallacy, an ego defense, denial of reason, or simple indifference, we will never engage the discussion that results in common understanding. Empathy is not just your commitment to walk in my shoes. It is your engagement to understand my choices as reasonable. In order to engage, you must explore my history. Know my risk/resilience, my trauma/experience, and my expectation/attribution.

TECHNOLOGY. “Technology” is the learning context of environmental practice. It can be defined as the level of access experienced by the individual. It is influenced by the level of access to education, markets, infrastructure, and relationships. Think of education as the ability to gain needed knowledge. “Markets” refers to the ability to engage with others and sell products resulting in new resources to the system. “Infrastructure” refers to the ability to utilize knowledge to build products. “Relationships” describes the ability to connect with others for barter of knowledge, education, and infrastructure transactions. The entry to public discourse is low. A cellphone is all you need. The efficiency promise, democratization of data, and access are readily available.

ECONOMICS. “Economics” is the capability context of environmental practice. It is the capacity of the individual to engage in group discourse and benefit financially. It is influenced by intelligence, goals, legacy, and support. Intelligence is measured in the ability to delay gratification and save resources for later use. It includes financial markets, but deals with more than just money. Hence, financial literacy is as much about understanding collective impact, economic mobility, and emergent research techniques as it is about financial capability and asset building. “Goals” refers to the capacity to plan for a future state of being. “Legacy” is the awareness of the progressive nature of economic development—the fact that choices now impact future states and choices. “Support” describes a system which provides financial and emotional resources in a way that encourages sustainable choices.

HEALTH. “Health” is the existential context of environmental practice emphasizing the connection of mind, body, and meaning. At the core of human fragility and at the peak of mental, physical, and emotional performance is health. No other construct touches more areas of daily life. No other construct both threatens and sustains corporate and individual dreams. Beyond the institution of health described in CULTURE, HEALTH refers to the visible, biological, cognitive, and existential senses of well-being. Examination of health crosses the barrier between experience, mind, and body. It articulates a connection between perception of trauma, choice architecture, narrative constructs, neuro-chemical biology, and physiology–or more simply between your reality and your disease.